4 Top Secrets for Succeeding in Product at a Tech Startup

By Rus Ackner / 5 minutes

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Are you interested in what makes a successful product manager at a tech startup? From creating sound processes to being able to motivate a team, being a product manager requires a unique skill set that relies heavily on working with people. Read on to learn four secrets for succeeding as a product manager at a fast-growing company!

Product Team Working With Coffee

1. Create Sound Product Management Processes

One of the most important skills a product manager needs to have is being able to create sound processes. Especially in a company that’s growing quickly, scaling up the product team by adding more product managers and establishing processes across multiple offices can be a challenge.

At Cuebiq, a specific obstacle that our product managers face is the six-hour time difference between our two main offices in NYC and Milan. To manage this, the Milan product team has established a schedule with certain product people working on the US time zone, once per week. Some product managers in Milan quite like this setup, since then they get to keep their morning free and catch up on other work before the US team wakes up, at which point they start working together.

Milan Product Team
Some of the Cuebiq team meeting in the Milan office

2. Communicate Effectively

Communication is also essential for success as a product manager, since much of the role involves coordinating others and enabling them to work at their full potential. Having empathy is very important in this respect, because it can help you connect with your team and even foresee issues that might arise down the line. This in turn can inform how you plan processes moving forward, and help you make them as efficient as possible.

Looking at our own global organization that’s split between Milan and the US, we face the communication obstacle of bridging two languages. Since Cuebiq’s business operations are conducted in English, it can be hard for some of the non-native English speakers to work in a language that is not their own. To manage this, the Milan office brings in teachers every week to host English classes of all levels, to help Italian employees refine their English and be able to communicate optimally at work.

In addition to English classes, our product managers in Italy like to take advantage of conferences in the US and visit the New York office frequently to practice their English. They’re also trying to speak more and more English internally in the Milan office!

Product Manager Writing on Whiteboard

3. Be Organized, Yet Flexible

As a product manager, you have to be organized in managing processes but flexible enough to spot new opportunities for success. You need to be creative enough to imagine things you haven’t built yet and then deliver on them. Being flexible and fast enough to adapt continuously is key, because on the development side, everything is constantly in flux. What’s more, as your team grows, you have to change how you manage the roadmap and how you distribute the work.

Being flexible also includes being able to wear many hats, which is essential for a product manager, especially in a startup environment. Product managers are often juggling many moving parts, in addition to managing a large team with disparate wants and needs, and they need to be able to take on whatever responsibility is necessary at a given moment.  

Product Team Meeting in Startup

4. Be Able to Motivate and Influence Your Product Team

At the end of the day, being a product manager is all about being a people manager. To this end, it’s essential to be able to influence people to take action. This means you need to understand what motivates your team, what they like, and what they need in order to operate at their top level.

In terms of management style, it’s key to manage softly and not be authoritative — especially since product managers can be very independent and entrepreneurial in their products. Typically, they want to be guided, but not micromanaged. To help achieve this fine balance, you can try gathering various points of view of your team members in advance, so that when you arrive at a meeting you’re prepared and have a sense of how to lead the meeting to cater to everyone’s needs and strengths.

Oftentimes as a product manager, you have to expect that your team members are more experienced than you in their individual disciplines, but it’s up to you to understand what they do and tie them all together to create the best processes for the product as a whole. In this respect, being a product manager requires a certain degree of humility in knowing that you’re not always the expert. At the same time, it’s essential to be proactive and constantly strive to learn everything you can about the product and its processes.

If you’d like to work at Cuebiq, be sure to check out our current job openings in both New York and Milan.

About the Author

Rus Ackner